“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves”, “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit”. Matthew 7:15, 18
I don’t know if you have watched the series The Chosen online. If you haven’t, I strongly recommend it, it is very enjoyable, enlightening and biblically based I have found. https://studios.vidangel.com/the-chosen
In series 1, episode 8, Shmuel, a Pharisee Rabi from Judea, informs Nicodemus that he has found a matter of law that he is deeply passionate about: False prophecy. He continues telling him that when he heard Jesus telling the paralytic man that his sins were forgiven, he thought to himself that only God can forgive sins. At that moment Jesus turned to face him and recited his thoughts exactly “as if reading them from a scroll”. At first, he considered the possibility that Jesus could be using divination but then realised that of course as a pharisee this would be his first thought and this should be obvious to anyone. He accuses Nicodemus of saying nothing when Jesus called himself “the son of Man as if from the prophet Daniel”. He asks Nicodemus if he will oppose his request to study False prophesy possibly in Jerusalem and when Nicodemus questions his motive as being political and self-interested, Shmuel answers that on the contrary “It is about the law and the law is God”.
Throughout the Gospels we see recounts of leaders who were so concerned about False Teaching and False Prophets that they did everything in their power to stop Jesus’ Ministry to the point of killing him. In John 11:47-50, the high priests describe Jesus as a dangerous man who would encourage “everyone to believe in him and then the Romans would take away both their temple and their nation”. The high priest Caiaphas declared that “it is better that one man die for the people than the whole nation perishes”.
Their intentions were good at first glance, they did what they were taught to do, what they thought was right: to obey the Law and protect God’s people, the Israelites. But because they could not see who Jesus was in the eyes of the Lord, they saw only someone who was a danger to the Law and needed to be stopped at all costs.
What strikes me in all these encounters with leaders of the ancient world, whether real or fictional like Shmuel, is not only that they were blind to the identity of Christ, but that their actions were not guided by Love. In fact, they were so preoccupied with doing what was right in the eyes of the Law that they forgot to consider the person of Jesus altogether, dismissing him as a dangerous man who could and should be written off.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end in the ancient world and I see much of the same language about false teaching and false prophesy leading to legalistic actions in the church today.
Yes in Matthew 7:15, Jesus warns us to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves”, but in verse 18 he also tells us:
“A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit”.
So let us consider if each person we are quick to condemn as a false teacher bears good fruits or bad fruits. Let us consider who that person’s identity in Christ is, before judging him or her by our standards.
When a church declares it acceptable for a woman to serve as a Deacon, in Sunday School for example or in the Administrative Department but not as the senior Pastor or Elder, they make a statement that they are more concerned about the rule of Law as they see it in the Bible than the identity of the woman as an image bearer of God and equal to a man in the eyes of the Lord (Galatians 3:28).
When a church proclaims that an openly Gay man is welcome to attend a Church but not to serve the Church, they affirm that they are more concerned about the reputation of the Church than the right and duty of every child of God to serve in any way he or she has been called to do.
But Jesus has called us to
“Love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength,” And to “Love our neighbour as ourselves.” Mark 12:30-31. (also see this post)
And you cannot love someone and discriminate against them at the same time.
You cannot follow the teachings of Jesus and consider the Law only without considering whether your opinion was made in love and taking into account the other person’s motives, calling and identity.